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8-Misc: Royal Commission on Genetic Modification (NZ) examined Monsanto’s GE activities



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TITLE:  Monsanto under questioning
SOURCE: The Dominion, New Zealand, by Alam Samson
DATE:   October 27, 2000

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Monsanto under questioning

Monsanto, the multinational that opponents of gene technology see as a 
symbol of their worst fears, received its toughest question last at the 
Royal Commission on Genetic Modification yesterday. After saying during 
cross examination that humans were responsible for more than 50 per cent of 
effects on the planet's bio-ecology, Sustainable Futures Trust interviewer 
Alan Fricker asked: "How much is enough?"

"We have just tapped the surface of the technology," Australasian business 
affairs manager Brian Arnst said. "It has the potential . . . to be used in 
many, many exciting ways for the human race." Earlier, Mr Arnst and New 
Zealand business development manager Murray Willocks, were peppered with at-
times hostile questions about Monsanto's activities.

Cross-examiners including the organic industry group's representative Derek 
Boradmore, Greenpeace's Duncan Currie, Green MP Sue Kedgley and Susan Lees 
of the Nelson-based GE-Free New Zealand, were especially persistent in 
questioning Monsanto's "tactics" in marketing and protecting its 
intellectual property.

Mr Arnst confirmed that Saskatchewan, Canada, farmer Percy Schmeiser had 
been prosecuted for breach of contract over keeping seed for the next 
season, but said such actions were about Monsanto protecting its 
technology. He accepted that Monsanto used private investigators in the 
case, but rejected a suggestion that rural New Zealand farmers who might in 
the future work with Monsanto, should fear "big brother" tactics. He said 
his company had clearly rejected use of the so-called "terminator gene", 
which prevents plants from producing fertile seeds for the next year's 
crop, thus requiring farmers to buy seed each year.

Later, Mr Arnst said he had no knowledge of any "traitor" gene technology, 
a term referring to a gene that reportedly could be "turned on" only by a 
particular company's product. Asked about a toll-free line overseas for 
farmers to inform on those withholding seeds, he said: "I'm not aware of 
this, but it's very important that farmers abide by regulatory 
requirements." Asked about liability in the case of long-term problems, Mr 
Willocks said: "We accept legal responsibility within the bounds of common 
law."

Pressed about the ethics of producing modified crops for human consumption, 
without prior longterm tests on humans, Mr Willocks said the introduced 
proteins might be new to the plant, but were not new to human consumption. 
Testing procedures, using animals to mimic human reactions, were set by 
regulatory authorities. Monsanto's New Zealand application for regulatory 
approval to produce a canola tolerant to Roundup herbicide had been 
withdrawn in anticipation of the commission.

Mr Arnst also said that a Friends of the Earth appeal to the Ombudsman to 
have Monsanto provide details about the modified gene, was of huge concern. 
The appeal had lapsed with withdrawal of the application but, had it been 
successful in different circumstances, would have forced Monsanto to 
withdraw any application. Monsanto's submission argued that to make New 
Zealand GM-free, would make it an agricultural backwater.



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